12-Step Call vs. An Intervention

The Difference between a 12-Step Call and an InterventionBecause Alcoholics Anonymous was the first successful program for treating alcohol abuse and is still today one of the largest, most well-known support groups available, people sometimes mistakenly believe that all recovery programs are just a broadened version of the same.That is not the case, however, and modern treatment models have grown to encompass a wide range of issues and approaches. Rehab for alcohol abuse continues to grow and change to provide a continuum of care that addresses the multifaceted face of addiction, be it alcohol, drugs or even behaviors! While the old-timers in AA may have figured out how to get off and stay off the booze, times have changed.Truth be told, most under the age of 50 have used both drugs and alcohol, thanks to the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Modern treatment centers usually treat both in the same setting, as it is now known that the mechanisms of addiction are basically the same from a recovery point of view.One change of note is the way an alcoholic or addict is approached when it becomes obvious that the addiction is out of hand. There were no professional interventions back then, just a couple of recovering drunks armed with a bottle who would visit the alcoholic in trouble and share their solution.Read more: Intervention

What is a 12-Step Call?

Back in the mid 1930s when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded, there wasn’t much known about the scientific, physiological, and psycho/social aspects of alcoholism. Then it was a given that most late-stage alcoholics would succumb to a grim fate, with much shame, horror and confusion about the whats and whys of their addiction.Drug use wasn’t addressed by those early pioneers who instead focused on what they knew, fearing that by adding drug addiction to it’s formula for recovery the intent would be diluted and unsuccessful.In contrast, now so much more is understood and addiction is addiction, regardless of it’s source. While recovering alcoholics in AA still intervene when someone needs help, modern interventions tend to be more successful, include drug use, and use a much different approach.Addiction-problemLet’s start with defining what exactly a 12-Step call is. Back in the day, though little was known about cravings and brain chemicals and recovery in general, it was known that late-stage alcoholics trying to stop “cold turkey” were at risk of dying from the withdrawals. Usually a couple of guys would show up at a hospital or alcoholic’s house with a bottle to wean their charge down.They would share their stories and if he was game to try their method, they would stay, sometimes for days or in shifts, to detox the poor guy if he wasn’t able to go to hospital. They would then give him a copy of their book with instructions to attend meetings and get a sponsor. Hopefully, the alcoholic would recover and share his experience with even more poor sots until the organization and it’s success rate grew and gained much attention, as nothing had ever worked before.12-Step calls still happen, just not necessarily in the same way as before. Recovering alcoholics still go to the prospect’s home in pairs to tell how it was for them and what they know about the disease of alcoholism, but it would be a rare exception for them to stay overnight or for days to detox the alcoholic.Going in pairs is a precautionary measure in the case of combativeness from their charge, which is still the case. Rather than trying to detox the alcoholic themselves, they now try to coax him to go to a rehab or medical facility if needed. Of course, they try and time their visit when their “prospect” is somewhat together so he can comprehend what’s being said.They try to get the alcoholic away from family while trying to impart their experience, with the hope he is open to beginning the process of recovery by attending meetings, getting a sponsor, and reaching out. If the prospect is deeply in denial or unwilling to go to rehab or even listen to what they have to say, then it’s game over. The 12-steppers go their merry way and the alcoholic keeps on keeping on…

What’s an Intervention?

An intervention, defined simply, involves family members and close friends getting together to confront the addict or alcoholic about his addiction. Early intervention attempts are often casual endeavors by family members who tell the alcoholic it’s time to do something about his problem. They are of negligible success, as family dynamics become distorted when denial and manipulation are part of the picture.Professional interventions, on the other hand, are facilitated by someone trained to gather family together and educate them about addiction, denial, enabling and other common aspects of addiction. Families are instructed to create bottom-line consequences so the addict may no longer continue on in the same fashion he has. The goal is getting the prospect in the proper type treatment as soon as possible, while separating him from enablers and using buddies.

How are They Different?

First, it’s important to note that while AA is quite successful in helping alcoholics find recovery, it is no longer the first choice for alcoholics in the latter stages of the disease (as is also the case with Narcotics Anonymous). Detoxing is much safer and less traumatic in a clinical setting, eliminating major risks while giving the addict a gradual introduction to recovery concepts. So while a 12-step call has two recovering people sharing their experience with the prospect privately, a professional intervention is lead by one person while family members all come together to confront the addict and offer consequences if the addict refuses help. This requires family to meet beforehand to become educated about disease and enabling concepts.The family is then guided to write “bottom line” letters intended to eliminate the well-meant but misguided “help” they are giving, which in reality only helps the addict to continue using. In a 12-step call, consequences aren’t part of the procedure, there is no confrontation and if the alcoholic refuses help it’s end of story. Family isn’t involved and enabling isn’t addressed at all. Rarely does an alcoholic or addict want to stop using until he has to. Forcing the issue by eliminating the help that allows him to continue is far more effective than trying to coddle him into some sense. Here are some comparisons as to how these two approaches differ.

12-Step Calls

  • Family steps back
  • No facilitator or professional
  • AAer shares using history
  • Focus not on alcoholic’s behavior
  • No consequences for refusal to get help
  • Alcoholic Remains in home environment
  • Not much education about enabling
  • Let addict talk if he wants
  • Alcoholic may be aware of 12-step call
  • Give alcoholic chance to think about it
  • AA is focal part of process
  • Leave prospect alone if he refuses help
  • 12-Step calls are free


  • Family is part of the process
  • Lead by Trained professional
  • Facilitator’s history not highlighted
  • Alcoholic is confronted about behavior
  • Consequences are clearly defined
  • Alcoholic goes away for rehab
  • Family educated about enabling
  • Addict encouraged to listen
  • Intervention kept secret until confrontation
  • Alcoholic urged to go immediately
  • Rehab, rather than 12-step meetings is goal
  • Consequences come with refusal of help
  • Professional interventions charge a fee
  • Addict goes to first meeting he can
  • Addict goes directly to treatment
 In conclusion, although there may be some similarities and the goal to get the addict to seek treatment, the methodology has changed to fit with the times. Making the best choice by weighing all the factors will help ensure that your loved one will get the best help available for all involved. Consult a professional when in doubt, the extra effort may make all the difference.

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